Shane Horgan has challenged both Munster and Leinster to follow the example of Guinness Pro12 champions Connacht and attack the new season with a more exciting brand of ball-in-hand rugby.
The new campaign kicks off tonight with last season’s beaten finalists Leinster hosting a revamped Treviso at the RDS while new-look Ulster face Newport Gwent Dragons in Belfast.
Munster, under new management with Rassie Erasmus their first director of rugby, kick off their league programme at Scarlets tomorrow and former Ireland wing Horgan believes both former European champions need to play catch-up with Pat Lam’s Connacht.
“What happened last year re-energised the whole tournament. I think Connacht, the whole of the Pro12 owes them a pint because they’ve reordered the whole structure of things, who should be at the top and who should be at the bottom and I’m sure it’s reinvigorated a lot of coaches and players,” Horgan said yesterday as Sky Sports launched their new season of coverage in London.
“I don’t think there’s too many other rugby leagues around the world that have so many teams that can win it. Also the manner in which Connacht and Glasgow play the game, a really exciting type of rugby, high risk but high reward has shown every other coach and player that playing that type of rugby is probably the only way you’re going to beat bigger teams.
Connacht and Glasgow are two teams that have moved it on. Traditionally it was Leinster, that’s what they built their success on, but I think these two teams have moved it on. Teams like Leinster and Munster have had to reassess.
“Both (Leinster and Munster) have good players and consistently over a number of years we’ve seen this. But I don’t think they’ve either had the game plan or individual players haven’t been challenging their skill levels. There’s been a slight conservatism within Leinster to take the ball to the gain line and then trust your skills to pass.
“Munster are slightly different. They’ve been playing a game plan that hasn’t suited their style, with very little go-forward ball and doing everything very deep and they need to change that. It’s going to be interesting with the new coaching change whether he gets them playing flat up to the line and take that space. Those are thing those teams need to do.”
Horgan, however, believes Leinster wil be the pick of the Irish provinces this season. “I’d say Leinster usually have a little more depth than everyone else so I’d say Leinster are first with Ulster slightly ahead of Munster. Although Connacht had the year that had last year they have lost a couple of big players so you’d think that maybe they’re the fourth (Irish province) but who knows.”
Ulster will be boosted by the arrival of New Zealand star Charles Piutau, who will make his debut tonight at full-back. Wasps, and former clubmate James Haskell believes Piutau can make a similar impact in the Pro12.
“I think he’s going to be massive for Ulster,” Haskell said. “He’s their biggest signing, we tried to keep hold of him and Ulster were not having that. They’re trying to build a team around him and I think it’s the most money they’ve ever spent on a player.
“He’s great because he’s a real professional. He’s going to come in and he loves to work hard, he’s out there training every day and he’s not a prima donna, he’s very keen to improve his game.
“He’s such a devastating runner with the ball in hand and I think Ulster are going to be the team to watch, they’re going to be very good. You saw what Charles did for us at Wasps last season, just how if you kick badly to him or give him an opportunity, he can create stuff out of nothing. As soon as you learn to play off him then he puts a lot of people away for tries.
“That’s what I love about him. At Wasps he was always professional, set standards and just constantly did amazing things in training. He broke a few boys’ ankles with his footwork, they were falling over left, right and centre.”
Meanwhile, South Africa captain Adriaan Strauss has announced he will retire from international rugby after the Springboks’ Northern Hemisphere tour in November. The 30-year-old led his country for the first time in June when the Boks won a hard-fought series over Ireland.
Sky Sports kicks off a bumper season of rugby – which includes live Guinness Pro12, ERCC and Ireland’s autumn internationals - this weekend with exclusive coverage of Scarlets v Munster and Connacht v Glasgow. Sky TV customers can upgrade to Sky Sports for just €20 per month via the red button.
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